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PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card review

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card review

Published: September 4, 2018
Published: September 4, 2018
Ratings Policy
Balance Transfer Rating:
2.6 rating
2.6 rating
2.6 / 5
Introductory Offer: 2.2
Net Value: 3.1
Features: 4.0

In a Nutshell:

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card’s introductory period on balance transfers is relatively short, though it’s worth keeping as a travel rewards card if you can pay off your balance in 12 months.

View similar balance transfer credit cards

0% Introductory Period
12 months

Transfer Fee
$5 or 3% (whichever is higher)

Introductory Purchase APR
None

Regular APR
12.49-17.99% (variable)

Annual Fee
$0

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fee, $100 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry credit, roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, luxury hotel discounts and special offers, extended warranty, price protection, return protection, purchase protection

Low Interest Rating:
2.2 rating
2.2 rating
2.2 / 5
Rates, Fees, Penalties: 2.0
Rewards: 4.0
Features: 4.0

In a Nutshell:

Though the regular APR on the PenFed Pathfinder card is low, the card lacks a 0-percent introductory period for new purchases.

View similar low interest credit cards

Regular APR
12.49-17.99% (variable)

Introductory Purchase APR
None

Introductory Balance Transfer APR
0% for 12 months

Fees

  • No annual fee
  • 3% balance transfer fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 5% or $5 cash advance fee (whichever is smaller)

Penalties

  • $25 late payment fee
  • 17.99% penalty APR
  • $25 returned payment fee

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fee, $100 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry credit, roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, luxury hotel discounts and special offers, extended warranty, price protection, return protection, purchase protection

No Annual Fee Rating:
3.3 rating
3.3 rating
3.3 / 5
Rewards Value: 2.4
Annual Percentage Rate: 4.7
Rewards Flexibility: 4.1
Features: 4.0

In a Nutshell:

Though the rewards are a bit inflated, the Penfed Pathfinder card offers an exceptionally generous bonus, earnings rate and premium travel perks for a no-annual-fee card.

View similar no annual fee credit cards

Rewards Rate

  • 4 points per dollar on travel purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • 3 points per dollar on travel purchases for all other cardholders
  • 1.5 points per dollar on other purchases

Sign-up Bonus
25,000 points if you spend $2,500 in first 90 days

Annual Fee
$0

Average Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)
$283

APR
12.49-17.99% (variable)

Rewards Redemption
Pros

  • No blackout dates on travel rewards
  • Variety of redemption options, including travel, gift cards, merchandise and events
  • Can pay for travel with cash plus points
  • No limit on number of points you can earn

Cons

  • Points expire after 5 years
  • Points are worth less than a penny
  • Must redeem points through PenFed travel site
  • No point transfer options

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fee, $100 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry credit, roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, luxury hotel discounts and special offers, extended warranty, price protection, return protection, purchase protection

Rewards Rating:
3.2 rating
3.2 rating
3.2 / 5
Rewards Value: 2.3
Annual Percentage Rate: 4.7
Rewards Flexibility: 4.1
Features: 4.0

In a Nutshell:

For no annual fee, the PenFed Pathfinder card offers a decent sign-up bonus and a high rewards rate on travel purchases

View similar rewards credit cards

Rewards Rate

  • 4 points per dollar on travel purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • 3 points per dollar on travel purchases for all other cardholders
  • 1.5 points per dollar on other purchases

Sign-up Bonus
25,000 points if you spend $2,500 in first 90 days

Annual Fee
$0

Average Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)
$283

APR
12.49-17.99% (variable)

Rewards Redemption
Pros

  • No blackout dates on travel rewards
  • Variety of redemption options, including travel, gift cards, merchandise and events
  • Can pay for travel with cash plus points
  • No limit on number of points you can earn

Cons

  • Points expire after 5 years
  • Points are worth less than a penny
  • Must redeem points through PenFed travel site
  • No point transfer options

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fee, $100 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry credit, roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, luxury hotel discounts and special offers, extended warranty, price protection, return protection, purchase protection

Travel Rating:
3.2 rating
3.2 rating
3.2 / 5
Rewards Value: 2.3
Annual Percentage Rate: 4.7
Rewards Flexibility: 4.1
Features: 4.0

In a Nutshell:

For military members and qualifying PenFed accountholders, the PenFed Pathfinder card offers an extraordinary bonus on travel purchases as well as premium travel perks.

View similar travel credit cards

Rewards Rate

  • 4 points per dollar on travel purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • 3 points per dollar on travel purchases for all other cardholders
  • 1.5 points per dollar on other purchases

Sign-up Bonus
25,000 points if you spend $2,500 in first 90 days

 

Annual Fee
$0

Average Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)
$283

APR
12.49-17.99% (variable)

Rewards Redemption
Pros

  • No blackout dates on travel rewards
  • Variety of redemption options, including travel, gift cards, merchandise and events
  • Can pay for travel with cash plus points
  • No limit on number of points you can earn

Cons

  • Points expire after 5 years
  • Points are worth less than a penny
  • Must redeem points through PenFed travel site
  • No point transfer options

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fee, $100 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry credit, roadside assistance, baggage loss and delay insurance, car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, luxury hotel discounts and special offers, extended warranty, price protection, return protection, purchase protection

PenFed has added a new card to its lineup of cards that offer a prime rewards rate to qualifying members of its credit union. Following the introduction of the PowerCash card with 2 percent cash back on every purchase and the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature card with its astounding 5 percent back on gas purchases, comes the PenFed Pathfinder card with yet another head-turning bonus attached to it: Up to 4 percent back on travel purchases.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find that high a rate on any other card, particularly a card with no annual fee. Along with a high rewards rate on travel purchases, the card features prime travel perks that make it a good card for a frequent traveler. 

High rewards rate for travel

The PenFed Pathfinder card is most rewarding to cardholders who spend a large percentage of their income on travel. The card offers three points per dollar on travel purchases for regular cardholders and four points per dollar for military members and PenFed customers with an Access America Checking account. The list of qualifying travel expenses is expansive, covering not only hotels and airfare, but also taxis, tolls and commuter transportation, which means your daily commute to work could get a little more rewarding.

The rate on remaining purchases is also higher than average – 1.5 percent back on every purchase.

Average sign-up bonus

The card’s sign-up bonus is a little less impressive – you get 25,000 points for spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of card membership. Not too shabby for a no-annual-fee card, but if you’re looking to collect a large number of points, you can find a large number of annual fee cards that offer bonuses of 50,000 points or more.

Also, the spending requirement for the bonus is on the high side – most cards only require a $1,000 threshold for this level of bonus. 

Primo travel perks for no annual fee

While the card’s earnings rate of up to 4 percent on travel purchases is designed to create some buzz, we think the card’s travel perks are its most noteworthy feature. With no annual fee (and a pretty reasonable APR) the card gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You get a $100 travel credit that covers incidental expenses on many major airlines, a $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck and a pretty extensive list of travel and purchase benefits, including insurance for baggage loss and trip delays, extended warranty and price protection.

These types of benefits, which are usually reserved for cards with high annual fees, make the Pathfinder card a good travel companion – especially since it doesn’t charge a fee for foreign transactions. You can use the card while traveling abroad without racking a long list of 3-percent fees on your charges.

Five-year limit on rewards

The Pathfinder card is fairly flexible on earning and redeeming points – there’s no limit to how many points you can earn, you don’t have to worry about blackout dates or seating restrictions when redeeming your rewards and you even have the option to cover part of your airfare with cash if you don’t have the number of points required for a flight.

However, the card has a few major drawbacks, including a five-year expiration date on your rewards. Five years may seem like a fairly long period, but most travel rewards cards don’t impose any expiration dates on their points, which puts the PenFed Pathfinder card at a serious disadvantage to its competitors.

Also, PenFed points are worth less than the average rewards point, with a value of only 0.8 cents apiece. The card’s earning rate is high enough to help offset the lower value of the points, but still, you’ll need to keep in mind before you apply for the card – the rewards aren’t quite as valuable as they seem.

Finally, PenFed charges fees for its rewards bookings – $15 for bookings made through its rewards portal and $25 for phone reservations – which can eat into your overall rewards value. 

Who can qualify for the PenFed Pathfinder card?

The PenFed card is open to members of PenFed Credit Union – primarily current and former members of the military and their families – but you don’t have to be a military member to join PenFed. If you aren’t automatically eligible for a PenFed account, you can join an eligible organization – such as the National Military Family Organization or Voice for America’s Troops – to open an account.

As mentioned above, if you aren’t a current or former military member, you’ll also need to open an Access America checking account to qualify for 4 percent back on travel purchases. Luckily, the requirements for a checking account are reasonable. There are no monthly services fees as long as you maintain at least $500 in the account. 

Why get the PenFed Pathfinder card?

  • You spend a high percentage of your income on travel.
  • You are a member of the military or have an Access America account and can qualify for the 4 percent earning rate on travel purchases.
  • You are an inner-city dweller who spends a lot on commuting and traveling.
  • You travel frequently and can take advantage of the card’s large array of travel perks.
  • You’re looking for a travel card that offers premium-level perks without an annual fee. 

How to use the PenFed Pathfinder card:

  • Enroll in an Access America checking account to earn the full 4 points back on travel purchases. (Current and former military members do not need a checking account since they automatically qualify for the higher rate.)
  • Put all of your travel purchases, including taxi rides and car rentals, on the card to maximize your rewards earnings.
  • Use this as your go-to travel card to take advantage of the travel protections as well as no foreign transaction fees.

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